Monday, December 6, 2010

Chiricahua National Monument

It’s been a while since I posted anything about our Southwest Boogie. I guess it’s time I finished writing about it – before I forget everything.

I believe I left off in Willcox, AZ. We spent the night there and woke early. We had decided to spend the day exploring the Chiricahua National Monument. A guide book to the Southwest made it sound like an interesting stop. It wasn’t kidding.

Chiricahua National Monument is a fascinating landscape made up of rock formations with interesting names like Pinnacles and Hoodoos. The park’s explanation is better constructed than anything I could write so I insert it below:


As we drove through the park we passed vista after vista, one more incredible than the other. It seems the most dramatic balancing rocks and other formations must be hiked to. But the ranger promised us spectacular formations along the road or via some shorter hikes and she was absolutely correct.


As we drove into the park, we began to ponder the millions of years it took to create something in such juxtaposition to what we had seen in the Grand Canyon. Rather than looking down into a gorge, here we were looking up at formations that looked like standing sentinels. In fact, the Native Americans who lived here believed them to be just that, _________________


As we drove along the park road we continued to enjoy the incredible formations. As it is with others, we were fascinated by the balanced rock formations. One wonders how many years it took to form these precarious formations and how quickly they might crumble at some instant in the distant future.

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We also stopped to enjoy the many Mountain Spiny Lizards in the park. We took too many photos of these beautiful iridescent reptiles. My personal favorites follow:


These two are planning something – be it a battle or coupling. Whichever it is, the blue in their display was vivid enough they spent a good while showing it.


The ranger (mentioned earlier) recommended we take an easy hike down the Grotto Trail. We decided we were up to a bit of hiking. The hike is down an modest incline with up close and personal views of some of the types of rock formations we had seen along the road.

I don’t think we hiked all the way through the grotto area. But we got a taste of how large the rocks making up the park’s attractions were.

On our hike back to the head of the trail Avi stopped to take a photo of yet another Mountain Spiny Lizard. Something caught my eye and I said, “Avi! Don’t move. I think there’s a rattler by your feet.”

Sure enough, there was a baby snake the right coloration for some sort of rattlesnake, minus any “rattle”. Luckily, it was much more interested in trying to bag the lizard than in defending itself from Avi. Avi got off a few good shots of the young’un before the lizard shot off and, shortly after, the snake crawling away as well.

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Jumping ahead in time a bit, we showed the photos of the young snake to a ranger back at the Visitor’s Center. She looked it up in a guide and identified it as a Rock Rattlesnake. She knew it was a Rattlesnake by the taper of the end of the tail. Rather than it being a gradual one, there’s a sudden angular turn to the tail exactly where the rattle (currently just a nubbin) will develop.


It was lucky I saw it. You can see in the photos how well the snake is camouflaged against the ground. Had it simply been sunning, it would have been easy to just step on it by accident.

We spent some extra time after the trail driving along the road through the park, continuing to enjoy the pinnacles, hoodoos, balanced rocks, and columns, even giving some of them names such as “Bird Rock,”  “Flying Seal,” “Earless Rabbit,” or “Magic Turtle”. Can you tell which is which?

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After we left the park we drove back to Willcox to rejoin Highway 10. Along the way we saw a sign that said “BIRDERS” with an arrow to the Willcox Wastewater Treatment Plant. Well, really just a large pond. But, being that “birders” seemed to apply to us, we took the dusty road to the water, where we found all types of waterfowl. Though there was nothing spectacular about the species or the numbers, it’s always nice to have a place appreciate the value of birding to its economy.

On the way out of the Treatment Plant, we came across a nicely perched Northern Harrier. Avi tried to get a photo with the bright light against the screen of our camera (a good reason to try and get one with a rangefinder). This is all he managed. But I happen to love the photo anyway. I didn’t even bother cropping it, since it captures a moment in time perfectly.


We grabbed a late lunch at Big Tex, a local BBQ joint located in an old red railroad car. Not fast food, but good food!

We spent the rest of the day driving to Van Horn, TX (yet again) to put us in position to hit Big Bend National Park the next day.

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